Sunday, July 8, 2018

What Does the Meme Mean?

Whatever happened to the days of "No shoes, No shirt, No service?"
EVERYONE welcome? Really? My first thought was "give me a month . . ."  

How could ANYONE disagree with a statement like "Everyone Welcome?"

This statement is especially well chosen as it overhangs the entry to a health food co-op that employs a very diverse staff and serves a diverse people. And also it dispels the idea that you have to be a member to shop there, which is optional. Makes total sense.

But I don't think it really means me. I am an old fogey who tries not to visibly cringe at the tatoos, piercings and gender . . . opinionatedness of the staff.  And I am a Catholic to boot.  Am I welcome?

There have been all these signs popping up around town saying how welcome everyone is, in all these languages. My neighbor has one. I know for a fact that she does not want anyone (wait, maybe she just doesn't want me) popping in on her, ever.

So if it doesn't mean "Everyone Welcome" what does it mean?

I recently got in a disagreement with a Facebook friend who posted the meme above along with the comment that it was sad that not every home agreed with this. All the statements sound really positive but after some friendly bantering back and forth about whether kindness really is everything, I responded with the meme below and the conversation came to a (merciful?) end.

All the statements on their meme SEEM gentle and kind and completely unarguable (which is, of course, why you need Facebook friends like me.) But they are all really meaning lots of unspoken things. . . And don't even get me started on "Love is love."

"Kindness is everything" really means challenge nothing we value. Everything is fine. Peace, peace.

"They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace." -- Jeremiah 6:14

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

I'm a Christian. You're a Catholic. You're not a Christian.

Conversation 1 
Non-Catholic Teen Eating Lunch in Catholic School Cafeteria (referring to the crucifix on the wall):  It's so weird and uncomfortable eating in the same room with a gory, dead body.
My daughter:  A cross without Jesus on it is just a tree.

You know how homeschool kids who want to go to public school always play the I-think-God-wants-me-to-be-a-witness-to-the-poor-lost-souls-at-the-public-school card?  I have always thought of that as probably bunk.

Now my ex-homeschooled daughter is not some perfect little saint-child but she does know her faith better than most and she loves a good . . . I won't say "fight". She loves a good discussion between herself and differently-minded others that sometimes involves conversational decibel levels rivaling incoming jet planes.

I am FLOORED by how many times she has been called on to defend her faith at the public high school since she started going there.

 Conversation 2
Catholic teen at social gathering discussing how all the kids in a protestant family are named after people from the Bible:  All the kids in my family are named after saints. 
Non-Catholic Neighborboy:  Our church doesn't have saints.  Only Catholics have saints.
My daughter:  Saints are just people who made it to heaven.

Here's one for you to try.

Conversation 3 
Neighborboy again:  I'm a Christian.  You're a Catholic.  You're not a Christian.
You: ____________________________________________________________

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mercy Between My Toes!

Approaching the Door of Mercy at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

"BAM!" That should be the sound of walking through (not just into . . .) a Door of Mercy.

People around me don't seem to be very excited about these doorways established by the Catholic Church at cathedrals all over the world as a physical sign of the Year of Mercy.

Mercy is different than forgiveness, you know. You have to do something to get forgiveness. Like the FLYLady's Shiny Sink, you get all clean and forgiven at baptism then you need to go regularly to confession to keep the gunk off your soul.

Non-Catholics, too, know you need to at least ask for forgiveness before you get it. And there is this messy thing about sin always having a price and your forgiveness not really being free for EVERYONE. In the end, the sufferings of Christ paid that price long ago but in a very real, concrete way that did not involve fairy tale unicorns but instead involved your True Lover shedding his own actual human BLOOD! Ouch.

But then there is mercy.

Mercy - ". . . the ready willingness to help anyone in need, especially in need of pardon or reconciliation." -- From the Modern Catholic Dictionary

And it is poured out free from God - guaranteed! Remember when Jesus told Peter . . .

" I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." -- Matthew 16:19

Well in that verse he first establishes the papacy and then gives the Pope the power to "loose" goodies from heaven. Imagine Pope Francis shaking and loose-ing all the fruits on the tree of mercy so they fall (BAM!) into your lap!

The Church now is busy writing fancy-sounding theological statements about what all this means and talking a lot about this being a year for us Catholics to GIVE mercy. This is definitely a great time to refresh our memories on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. 

This is also a time we get to feel all creepy talking about plenary indulgences and abuses the Church is (unfairly, I think) accused of back in the middle ages. Which gets us talking about purgatory . . . and all of these discussions are good for another day.

But I just love the idea that I can walk through a special door, close to home or far away, and receive mercy in my sinfulness from God. Not necessarily forgiveness, but mercy.

Can you get mercy from God in other ways and places and times? Absolutely! But for the Year of Mercy, the Church gives you a way, a place and a guarantee*, care of Matthew 16:19.

If you think you are exempt from/not eligible for mercy, check out this Father Mike homily. It is the best thing I have ever heard anyone say on the matter.

So walking through the Door of Mercy for me is like:  Mercy in my hair! Mercy between my toes! Mercy under my fingernails! BAM!!!

Hmm. For some reason, this is making me want to clean my sink.

*Guarantee of mercy offer expires November 20, 2016 with the conclusion of  the Year of Mercy. For mercy after expiration date, consult your priest or pastor - or try this: "Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy."

Sunday, February 28, 2016

NPR, Lent and Kidneys

From Luke 3:11 - "He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none . . ."
. . . and be thankful all you are being asked to give up is a coat.

There's nothing like a National Public Radio pledge drive during Lent. This is the season when you want to just wallow in misery and BAM!, NPR is there to help. They are like, "Well, we were going to give you the news right now but . . . NAH." Or "Calm soothing music anyone? I DON'T THINK SO!" It is an equally miserable time for those who have given and for those who have not. From Matthew 5:45 -  [your heavenly Father] "sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Et tu, NPR?

So the guys at Freakonomics, on NYC public radio, decided to approach pledge drive season a little differently. They asked their listeners to tell them how their lives were different because of their show. You can listen to the podcast here. There are lots of little ways mentioned but the most interesting is that a listener actually donated his kidney to a stranger because of a previous episode on the subject. (I certainly hope he got a coffee mug or fashionable tote bag as a thank you gift.)

But all this whining aside, the spiritual possibilities here are fascinating. People are normally born with two kidneys and, if all goes well, only end up needing one. The podcast listener who donated the kidney talked about his "wholly redundant" organ. What if what we really have is a "holy redundant" organ. An organ filled with spiritual possibilities!

I actually have a friend, who lives far away from me, who is really suffering for need of a kidney. His wife was all set to donate hers to him but she turned out to not be a match.

On Freakonomics they have been talking about starting a kidney donation chain. The donator on the podcast, after lots of screening and preparation, donated his kidney to a stranger that he was a match for. The recipient's father, who was not a kidney match for his daughter, then donated a kidney for someone he was a match for, and so on. On the podcast they say you can get up to 43 pass-it-ons from a person's kidney gift in a best case scenario. (I don't understand that number yet, I need to study more.) The donator didn't get 43 kidneys passed on for his one donation but he did get 3. So his one act of charity cured three strangers from a miserable health condition.

I think this is fascinating.

You should know about me that I am neither a blood donator nor an organ donor. Some friends were teasing me about the latter. However, if you give a kidney while you are alive you can make a leisurely decision about if and when. With organ donation, some stranger makes those decision for you, possibly in the middle of a crisis.

Consider the saints. Many chose ascetic lifestyles that involved self-inflicted pain. Why would they do this? Why do we fast? Some of the same reasons. First, there is just the matter of proving to yourself and to your passions who is in control. And there is an element of practice in there. You can practice telling your body "no" on little things to help prepare you to tell your body "no" on big things, should the need arise.

There is the unity with Christ that comes from sharing in his sufferings. Honestly, unity with Christ as experienced by many or all of these ascetic saints sounds like it is a rich return for one's sufferings.

And then suffering, when offered to Christ is just sheer power. Power to make the sufferer holy. Power to make prayers for friends and loved ones more powerful. Power to, in some degree, help save the world. What's not to like!? HA.

If you are seeking suffering, here is a perfect way to do it. Besides all the intangible spiritual benefits, you know that you have directly, physically touched, maybe SAVED, some people's lives in this world.

Kidney donation is a pretty recent development. Would any of the last few thousand years of saints have donated kidneys if they had had the option? In 500 years will the stories of saints from this age include this ascetic act of charity?

Being the huge chicken that I am about needles, I wonder if I would be capable of doing this. Could I do it as a gift of love? What would it feel like to offer such a gift for a specific person as a deliberate act of love in action? If I faced the scalpel focused on my love for that person or another person, would that make the needles more bearable?

And then there are all the people who "face the scalpel" as I put it, and worse, every day involuntarily for a zillion reasons. And I am not getting any younger - my time will come for medical misery soon enough.

I ask myself, "What's the THEREFORE?" Hey, it's Lent!  Maybe I should at least donate some blood. There's nothing on the radio this week anyway.

When Did the Bible Stop Telling Us Stories?

The Tower of Babel lesson portrayed by this picture seems to be: "When you can't understand what someone is saying . . . hit them with a stick."

You may have heard pro-lifers make the point that if you don't accept life beginning at conception, then there is no other really obvious place to put the line. Does a "blob of protoplasm" become a "life" at 3 months? At the first noticed heartbeat? At viability? At birth?

I suggest now that we take that same line of thinking into the question of Church history v. Church mythology. As someone who believes in a seven day creation about 6000 years ago, I ask naysayers when we switched over from myth to history.

I was trying to figure out the point in the chronology of Bible stories where in an evolutionary view of the universe we start calling stuff that happened in the Bible "history" instead of "myth." Here is a rough list of Old Testament events and my guess at where the line gets drawn.

My point, of course, is that the line is arbitrary and that we should consider the creation story historical if not literal. Just as the absence of a better "life" line in the development of an unborn baby indicates life beginning at conception, the absence of a historical "myth" line in the Bible supports a seven day creation.

Often considered non-historical:

  • Creation
  • Adam and Eve
  • Cain and Abel

Enoch taken up to heaven without dying?
Whoops! Chronologically this happens here but this might be considered history.
  • Noah's ark
  • Ham shames Noah by "uncovering his nakedness" causing Ham to get all his descendants cursed. (Descendant cursing is very politically incorrect and considered non-historical now.)
  • Tower of Babel, where we supposedly get our different languages

Probably stuff considered "historical" starts at this point:

  • Sarah and Hagar each have babies with Abraham. The boys are named Isaac and Ishmael. Muslims trace their Biblical roots back to Ishmael.
  • The near-sacrifice of Isaac foreshadows the sacrifice of Christ

Sodom and Gomorrah
Whoops! This goes here chronologically but because it is the source of a lot of anti-homosexual talk, it is often discarded as myth.

  • Rebekah marries Isaac; they have two children.
  • Esau sells his birthright and then is tricked out of his blessing by Jacob.
  • Jacob's ladder
  • Jacob marries Rachel then has children by her and two other women.
  • Eleven of Jacob's sons gang up on poor Joseph, eventually causing the entire family to move to Egypt, which is a good thing . . . for awhile.
  • 400 years and hundreds of thousands of descendants later, Moses leads that BIG family out of Egypt.
  • 40 years of wandering in the desert
  • 10 commandments given twice
  • Ark of the Covenant
  • Deborah, Gideon, Samson, Samuel and the judges
  • Saul, David, Solomon
  • Israel and Judah divided
  • Elijah and the prophets
  • Babylonian exile (bye-bye nation of Israel)
  • The nation of Judah returns to the promised land
  • Maccabean revolt
  • Jesus is born

  • I am neither a historian nor a theologian and cannot tell you what is causing the difference of belief before and after the break. Where is it indicated in the New Testament? Those earliest stories are not treated differently when referenced by Our Lord and the apostles. Why do we believe in David but not in Noah?

    I would like to hear comments on this. Did I put the line in the right place?

    Thank you for listening to another of my creationist tirades.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Evolution - Why, God?

The Garden of Eden is on a map so it must be real, right?

In the 6,000 years or so since civilization got rolling there has been a lot written about the Biblical six-day creation. The Bible actually gives us two somewhat-contradictory stories in terms of when God did what.

Those stories, though, established the entire flow of our society, of our calendar. Six days of work, one day of rest = one week. The very foundational idea of original sin came out of that, as well.

Books have been written about all the nuances of how this six-day creation took place and what it meant. There has been speculation about Adam and Eve's motivation. Was the serpent threatening Eve? Was Adam being a coward in eating the apple instead of kicking the serpent's butt? And maybe it wasn't an apple at all, the Bible doesn't specify. Eve could have bit a big chunk out of the banana of transgression. (Sorry, I just like how that sounds.)

Why is it that we aren't told to just read the Bible through once and then believe ourselves to know everything of religious importance? Why is it that you can hear the same passage every year of your life and get something new out of it every time?

The word of God is so complex and meaty and full of layers and symbolism. It seems like nothing God ever does has only one meaning.

So all that is background for this one thought. "Evolution - Why, God?" I haven't heard any theologians explain why on earth God would tell us twice that He made the world in this one way, full of beauty and meaning, and then turn around, and without telling us anything, make it in a completely different way.  And then Jesus comes to teach us all about God but doesn't bother to mention this little discrepancy.

Billions of years to create everything. What is the symbolism of that? Where are the layers of Truth stacking upon each other, pointing to future events and past, that we see in everything else God does?

I think the theologian who tells us "why" should be the next Doctor of the Church.

Catholic Youth Glamour Envy

A Father Mike Schmitz fan, a March-for-Life marcher, a FOCUS missionary, she was living just to bring people to Jesus . . . Now I know why I was rudely staring at the stranger talking across the table from me. She was teaching Theology of the Body to hundreds of eager teenagers (my attempt to offer the class at my parish was scrapped due to lack of teenage or parental interest). She was engaged to a wonderful, handsome, holy, young, Catholic boy.* She had a ministry that was changing lives. She was living the Catholic Youth Glamour Dream!

When she noticed my glare and asked why I was looking at her like that I made some semi-workable excuse and then asked myself the same question for weeks. Why on earth was I glaring at a stranger? It took me a while before I figured it out. It was ENVY! Not one of my more frequent sins, I think.

I think that I am going through a spiritual mid-life crisis now. How many people have I brought to Christ and into His Church? (answer: zero) How many orphanages have I built? Churches renewed in the Faith? Abortions I have personally stopped? (zero, zero, zero)

There were Marches for Life on both coasts this January. The one on the East Coast was a party. A Catholic youth reunion and field trip. The one in San Francisco was more ornery. Young middle and high school-age marchers were sandwiched between exterior rows of older folks who acted as a buffer and peacefully received the spit and the threats and curses of the onlookers.

Marchers at both events performed the same actions for the same reasons and met with different results. Sometimes being Catholic can be fun and glamorous. Sometimes it can be dangerous. It is what it is. And I don't mean to say that being Catholic should not be fun, fulfilling and fruitful. This is a hugely exciting time to be young and Catholic, old and Catholic and even, dare I say it, middle-aged and Catholic.

Justice soothes my envy, though. A wise friend pointed out to me that the glamorous stranger will soon be saving the world from the receiving end of a diaper like the rest of us.

*I am assuming all those adjectives. I actually don't know anything about him. Additional note: My hubby is still pretty hunky, too.  :)

I'm an Arrogant Hater

Apparently it is arrogant to believe things. Well, only if you believe that those things are actually true and that things that are contradictory opposites of the things you believe, you believe to be false.

In addition, I am learning that the things that I believe officially make me a "hater."

I believe God exists. People who do not believe that God exists might be very nice people but I believe there is quite a bit of proof that they are actually wrong.-- hater

I believe that all truth is not relative. If you actually do not believe this then what is the point of education and science? -- hater

Marriage is something specific that is not just about feelings of love. There is actually a vision for sacramental marriage that, when done right, actually causes holiness, that gives the graces to survive tough times, that forms the basis for a healthy and happy society. Feelings of love that do not fall into the category of a sacramental marriage are fun and nice but need to be dealt with under a different name and in different ways. -- hater, hater, I can't hear you. (ears covered) la, la, la

So my facebook friends and family (notice, no quotation marks on friends) think I am an arrogant hater. They have NO EXCUSE. They have known me. They have seem my life. There is nothing I can do but suck it up on that front.

But what about those who don't know me? They might actually think I get up in the morning looking for someone to judge and discriminate against.

I think it would be interesting to collect some letters of recommendation, like for a job. Then when people accuse me being an arrogant hater I could post a nicely formated PDF in my defense.

"I have known Joyce for about fifteen years. She has always been a faithful friend and never (ok, RARELY) gossiped or bashed other people behind their backs to me."  
"Last March when my cat had the woosles she brought over some homemade chicken soup and a can of tuna fish without my even asking."

Maybe a letter from some of my homosexual friends would help. --

"As arrogant a hater as Joyce may seem to be, she has been nothing but a kindhearted friend to me.  We talk about all sorts of things and enjoy each other's company."

All those nice things people will be saying about me in the eulogy when I die, let's get them in writing now when I need some support. It's lonely being an arrogant hater.

The Umbrella of Obedience

- seeking protection under the Umbrella of Obedience - 

The Umbrella of Obedience

I saw this idea in a Protestant website years ago and really like it.  When you are under the Umbrella of Obedience you can be sure that nothing can touch you that isn't in God's perfect plan.  You will still suffer in this life but it won't be random suffering.  It will be purposeful suffering sent as a good gift full of graces from God.

How do you stay under the Umbrella of Obedience?  You obey all your authorities.  Children obey your parents.  Wives obey your husbands (yes, really, although I think abusive situations are an exception).  Workers obey your bosses.  Citizens obey your government (within the boundaries of what is moral).  All peoples obey your God.

If you step out from under the umbrella you are possibly subject to random, purposeless suffering. That stinks.

You Are What I Eat

We are the Body of Christ. One bread, one body, etc. So lets say that I am a big toe in the body of Christ and I give myself over to my love of nitrates and processed meats, which will surely be my undoing. And lets say that my Body big toe isn't healthy and therefore the whole Body, improperly supported from below, tips over and bonks its Body head on a rock, or cuts its Body elbow . . .

Conclusion: I sure hope you guys are eating your broccoli out there.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Calendar of the Judged

-- about to whap somebody accidentally with the log in his eye --

It has come to my attention that I may have been judging a few people. OK, maybe a LOT of people . . . and systems . . . and groups and stuff. OUCH! I would have liked to have been holier than that. Anyway, what an opportunity for a Lenten resolution!

While on the road this summer my family visited a Catholic church that had a calendar in the bulletin. Each day had the name of a different priest of the diocese. The idea is that the faithful would take the calendar home and get in the habit of daily prayers for priests.

Have you ever stubbed your toe and not been able to think, in the pain of the moment, who to offer it up for? I hate it when that happens. Wasted pain bugs me.

So using the name-of-the-day method, like on the priest calendar, I can solve both that problem and maybe make up a bit for the sins of my judgmental heart.

This Lent my plan is to write a name of one of my judgees on every day of a blank calendar for the whole 40 days. It would be nice to think I will need to repeat things to fill all the spots. We shall see. The name of the day gets prayers and all my boo-boos offered up for them.

What an exercise, listing all those I have wronged in my heart!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Passing the Princess Test

Question 1: Are you a girl?
Question 2: Have you been baptized?

By listening to Father Mike Schmitz' super-awesome, free, online homilies I have  learned that when you get baptized things change. Before baptism you are a "Beloved Creature of God." After baptism you become a "Beloved CHILD of God."

Until recently this wasn't that interesting or exciting a fact to me. But then I got to thinking.

So God is our king. We have Mary for a mom, although not everyone embraces that. Jesus is the "Prince of Peace." Hmmm. What do you call a girl whose father is the king and whose mother is the queen and whose brother is a prince? Duh! A princess!

Remember that we became children of God at our BAPTISMS, so this isn't something just in the future after we die, this is NOW. (If you are not a girl you are welcome to continue reading this article, just substitute the word "prince".)


This princess business is not all cupcakes and sunshine. We know that in the history books people are always trying to knock off the royal family so they can take over. That is pretty much the case for us, too, while we are still in this world. So think of this life as a big princess test. There are lots of difficulties and trials. Sometimes it seems like the whole universe has got it in for us.

If you pass the test you get to live the really good princess-life with the Holy Family forever with no more bad guys trying to mess you up and steal your crown. (Enter cupcakes and sunshine.) If you fail . . . well, let's just say you don't want to fail the princess test.

Wow. Forever is so long!

More bad news. Even if you pass the test, your job description for eternity will be "Princess." That is only bad in the sense that you never get to be promoted to "Queen". Actually one of the best ways to flunk the princess test is to try to grab the queen or king's crown for yourself. So be a princess and be happy.


Yes. But remember that there are three types of people in this world: "Princesses", "Princes" and "Beloved Creatures of God." So we need to be treating EVERYONE with this kind of respect. Princes and Princesses deserve respect because they are part of the royal family and Beloved Creatures of God get respect because the king LOVES them!


If you think about it you will probably be able to figure out the right answers to the test problems. (Hint: start by checking out Matthew 25.)

And . . . you have all the help you want passing the princess test! All the people who took and passed the test before you and even the Queen, herself, will be happy to give you the answers needed if you ask them.

You may have heard that it's a killer final but don't freak out. Start studying now and ask for lots of help. The princess crown is yours to lose.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Making Time (More) Holy

I was impressed, years ago, to learn that people of Islamic faith are required to stop what they are doing at five set times each day and put their face to the carpet in prayer.

The Catholic Church, too, though, makes time holy.  The year flows through a liturgical cycle of colors and saints. In addition, each month of the year and day of the week has traditionally been dedicated to something specific.  For example, every May and every Saturday are dedicated to the Blessed Mother, the souls in purgatory get November and every Sunday is about the Resurrection.

Then there is the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church, which, recited by religious and lay people at set times each day, with the passing of the time zones around the world, sends up a steady stream of prayer and psalms.

The Angelus is traditionally said at 6AM, noon and 6PM; the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3PM.

You bless your meals, right?  Right????  You pray your good-night prayer and maybe your morning offering.

What, you say, you want MORE?!  (You are really "hard-core", you know that?)

I would like to say that spiritually I have reached a place where my whole day was a constant breath of love given and received between my Lord and I.  It would not be true.  So instead of guiding you to that happy place, I propose some rather unusual ideas for more triggers to remind us throughout the course of our days WHO LOVES US!  :)

1)  Hi, God! - Over the course of many years I noticed that I was seeing 1:11 and 11:11 a lot on digital clocks. Not 2:22 or 1:12, always just the "1's".   It got to be a joke with me and then I decided that it was probably just God saying "hi".  My kids think this is funny and always point it out to me. Then we wave "hi" back to God.  My son enjoys this so much that he has to also wait for and point out 2:22, 3:33, 4:44 . . . 7:77 (just kidding).

2)  Everytime I . . . - Have a favorite memorized prayer?  What daily/hourly/regular activity can you use as a trigger to remind you to say that prayer?  I have experimented with one specific prayer to say when I make the bed, one while doing laundry, even one to pray silently to myself whenever I walk into a bathroom. Maybe praying whenever one gets in a car would be a good trigger.  (To help me remember, I have lots of beginning drivers in my family.)

I would, also, like to be better at "praying the news".  That would be listening to the news like one actually cared about the people talked about and praying for them as one listens.

3) Prayer Clock - Does it seem like there are just SO MANY people you should be praying for, like, forever?  Of course, you need to pray for your family.  Don't forget your godchildren.  Don't forget the poor. Uncle Bob with his surgery coming up . . .

I experimented for a while with dedicating each waking hour of my day to different prayer requests. For example, every 9 - 10 AM could be for the unemployed.  Any prayer-time that happens to occur in that window each day is dedicated to the unemployed.  Any boo-boos (stubbed toes, medical treatments, etc.) that occur during that time would be offered up for that intention.  Any sacrifices made during that window would be offered as well.

These are just some wild ideas about how to make time more holy.  They are not meant to intimidate or obligate.  If you see something you like, TRY IT.  Your suggestions are welcome in the comments section, too.  :)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pop-Tart Puppet

(Above, an unrelated video in which our family guinea pig is cleverly disguised as a Pop-tart.)

So there we were eating our breakfast and my son's Nutella-covered Pop-tart fell in his lap and soiled his pajama shirt. He is not one to handle frustration very calmly so when I told him not to cry over spilt milk I was surprised that he considered what I was saying. I told him that a Pop-tart can't MAKE him mad. Is he a Pop-tart's puppet? Can a Pop-tart make him cry? Can a Pop-tart make him sing and dance? Who is the boss of his actions and emotions?

A few weeks ago a teenage student of mine, who I know has had a very traumatic childhood, hounded me to explain how a God who allowed so much suffering to happen to her could be "True". My answer at the time stank and so I have really thought about this a lot.

But now I would say it is all about the Pop-tart thing. In some cases, maybe in many cases, God does keep bad things from happening to us. Many times He does not and it isn't for us to completely understand why. 

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord."
--Isaiah 55:8

So while Christianity doesn't give us the ability to bend life's circumstances completely to our liking, it does allow us to bend our liking to our circumstances. It gives us a way to respond constructively to everything that happens in life. It gives us words of praise and thanksgiving. It gives us a guide for our own behavior in response to whatever the behavior of others toward us may be. It gives us a purpose and good use for our suffering as well as good company with which to share it (Jesus and the saints).

Without this, we are powerless puppets of an outside world that tries to shape and break us. With it, we are victors over life's blows and can tap into an endless source of peace, hope and mercy.

Pop-tart, Schmop-tart.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Valet Parking at Church

Before we found out we were moving to Wisconsin, a good friend asked me if I could see myself living my whole life and dying in Florida.  Yup.  I thought I could.

Six years later I ask myself the same thing about my new home.  Wisconsin is nice enough.  What scares me is how I will get around walking on all this ice when I get older.  The roads in town are plowed/salted and easy enough to drive on but large parking lots can get really icy and bad.  

I have a history of very dramatic public falls, going back to my college days.  This is a big concern as my bones get more crispy and my eyesight worse.

Lots of people in this town and in my church work for 3M.  Engineers, the bunch of them.  So you guys can make a post-it note, and people like you can put men on the moon but you can't keep a parking lot ice-free in winter?  

How am I supposed to get to church when I get old!?  Maybe I can store enough canned beets in the cellar to not have to go out for food for four months, but I gotta go to church!  I even considered buying a house up a hill from church and sliding there every Sunday on my butt.  . . . But, I would have to get up the hill again after Mass.

After agonizing about this for years the idea came to me to start a free valet parking service at church. In one of the most awesome moments of my 21 year marriage, my husband offered to make it happen and run the new program! 

The idea is that macho young people who either don't fall down much or who don't mind falling down, can park and retrieve cars of the more elderly and more squeamish.

Interestingly, in the few weeks we have tried this, the biggest obstacle is getting elderly midwesterners to be willing to be helped.  

My proposed solution?  If people refuse to take advantage of this free service, we should get some cute 6th graders raising money for . . . whatever . . . and exchange valet parking for a donation to the whatever-6th-grade cause.  The kids could wave advertising signs for the service like you do at a car wash (but wearing considerably more clothes) and collect donations.

So this is the key to my growing old and dying in this frozen cheese state.   I hope this works!  :)

Apologetics Pen Pals

Apologetics - the discipline of defending a position (often religious) through the systematic use of information. (thank you Wikipedia)

So my teenage duaghters are now looking for a fight.

By that I mean that they have been learning stuff about their Catholic faith and are ready to see how it plays in the ring.  The arguments for the Faith have seemed really convincing to us as we read them in our Catholic books.  But, hey, we were an easy crowd since we already started out in agreement.

They are looking to test their debate skills in a "safe" environment and this is mostly self-defense.

At the public high school, my girls seem to be enveloped in a circle of evangelically-minded, non-denominational Christians.   These are friends, classmates and neighbors.  And they are quick to ask a challenging question on the band bus.  They are quick to invite people from other churches to their youth group and super-fun parties.  Really? Indoor bounce houses and giant slip n slides?!?  (I am not making this up.)

Starting a religious debate with a neighbor or a friend seems unwise, especially if you don't have much practice.  And verbal debates usually are won by the person who can think quickest on their feet and who has the best memory for quoting Bible verses.  Does this really reflect what is True and what is not?

I propose the idea of Apologetics Pen Pals.  There must be lots of Protestants wanting to fine-tune their debating skills against Catholics.  It is win-win for both sides.

Here are the rules:

1)  All communication is done by snail mail.

2)  Either person can start the questioning/dialogue with any religious subject they like.

3)  Get information for your debate from anywhere or anyone you like.  If you don't know immediately how to respond, go find out.  Google it.  Ask your parents.  Ask your pastor.  Go read a book about the subject.

4)  You have to state your response yourself.  Quotes are fine, but you can't just refer someone to a book or video and expect them to get your reponse from that.

5)  The person who writes last and gets no response can consider themselves "unrefuted" in the debate.

This is a great opportunity to practice debating respectfully.  The forced, slow pace of the debate lends itself to calm, thoughtful response. Truth does not need yelling or insults to make it true.  Facts are facts.  It either is true or isn't.

This will give kids practice in writing, researching, and expressing their ideas.  In the end, perhaps, both participants will know more about Faith and Truth. (And it is fun to get mail too, right?)

Now, where am I going to find some Protestants ready for a debate?  Can't be THAT hard.  :)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Do you know where your pants are?

I was just watching the great Pants on the Ground video in a previous post and it made me want to talk more about pants.  So here you go.  Love this video!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Trees Are For Me

Autumn Love
by Joyce

They're my trees.
You can look, I guess.
But they are for me.
God does that, you know.
It's kind of goofy, romantic.
'Cuz He loves me.
For whatever reason, 
He loves me.

"How about orange trees today?" He says.
. . . And there you go.
"How about red trees?"
. . . Whammo!
He does yellow and even purple sometimes, too.
I say, "Schweet, but I betcha can't do blue."
He tells me there is quite enough blue already.
In the sky.  In the water.
He loves me.
The trees are for me.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Greased Pigs and the LOVE Homily

I no longer think that I am some grumpy old, obsessed-with-rules traditionalist every time I feel barfy during a LOVE Homily.

You know what I am calling LOVE Homilies?  That is when a priest/pastor/speaker goes on for 20 minutes (or, heaven help us, longer) about how we should love one another and how much God loves us.

My negative feelings toward LOVE Homilies were greatly magnified during my year of RCIA.  Before I could join the Catholic Church, apparently it was necessary for me to attend mandatory lectures every Saturday night for almost a year.  The point of all of these lectures, best I can remember, was the repeated stating of the fact that God loves me.

Now this was totally worth it considering the end goal of receiving the sacraments and joining the Catholic Church.  No question.

However!  Let the record show that I was a Protestant at the time so I already knew God loved me.  It would have been more helpful if that time had been used explaining some of the wacky-seeming Mary stuff and Purgatory stuff I would soon be buying into.

And I have been trying to love God and neighbor for all my life and what you see is all the progress the Grace of God has mustered up in me.   I need more help.  Something more specific.

One problem with love is it's elusiveness.  Trying to love is like trying to catch a greased pig.  So here we are with oil on our hands and clothes, tired and gross, sweating and slipping, falling off pigs into mud puddles.  The priest often seems more like a dry cheerleader on the sidelines than anyone with actual helpful expertise in the matter although he certainly wrestles his own pigs too.

A quick google search turned up this wiki-how page on How to Catch a Greased Pig.  I guess that is what I want from a homily.  I want another trick to try like "jump diagonally across onto the pig from your better foot."

And in the end, after years of trying to love, my success rate probably has more to do with the gift of Grace than my ability to jump diagonally while grabbing hold.

How about a homily on how to convince God to give me more Grace.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Guardian Angels and Why I Don't Believe in Germs

- angel as protector from earthly harm - 

Is your Guardian Angel broken?  

Do you find yourself, regardless of your angel's assistance, still in a frequent state of suffering?  What is WITH that?

Why are we told to pray for help from our Guardian Angels?  Aren't Guardian Angels supposed to be always there working for us whether we ask them to or not?  Isn't angel help, like breathing, an automatic process you don't have to think about all the time?  

Here is a common Guardian Angel prayer:

Angel sent by God to guide me
Be my light and walk beside me
Be my guardian and protect me
On the path of life direct me.

Here is another:

Angel of God my guardian dear
In whom his love commits me here
Ever this day be at my side
To light and guard
To rule and guide.

Now, even a six year old can figure out that people still die.  People still get sick.  Even a 6 year old, if nothing else, stubs his toe and gets a cold.  It surprises me that more kids don't ask hard questions about this.  This happens even if you say your Guardian Angel prayer every day.  Where is the supposedly protective power of all these angels?

- angel as protector from spiritual harm - 

This picture perhaps shows a more accurate concept of the role of our angels.  This angel looks helpful to me.  I would like to have an angel that helps me out like this.

But, help from Guardian Angels aside, it kind of leads us to the age old question:

Why do bad things happen to good people?  

For that matter, why do bad things happen to bad people?  Where is God in all this and why doesn't He do something?  

Here are some reasons God would allow (not cause, but allow) suffering:

A)  Suffering can build character, empathy, humility and help us to grow in love.

B)  We learn lessons from it.  (Especially if it comes as a consequence of our stupidity or meanness.)

C)  Purgatory  - It is a great virtue to look within ourselves and identify things we are doing/thinking/being that could separate us from close friendship with God.  Those things are called sin.  Going to confession gets us forgiveness but . . .  there is still restitution to be made.  There are still consequences of our forgiven sins that if not paid in this life will likely be waiting for us in Purgatory.

So Purgatory is where we pay off these little debts we accumulate in this life before we move on to Heaven with our shiny, clean souls.  Pain and suffering we experience in this life, if offered to God, goes toward paying off that debt and shortens the time of purification we experience in Purgatory, which is a good thing.  Pain and suffering in this life, when offered to God, is pure POWER.  Here are some things you can use that power for:
  • reducing the time YOU will spend in Purgatory
  • reducing the time someone specific you love spends in Purgatory
  • reducing the time someone you don't know or love spends in Purgatory (What a gift!)
  • making any of your prayer requests more powerful.  Why do you think people fast in the Bible?  Fasting is a good way to show repentance but it, as a form of voluntary suffering offered up, is a special kind of powerful prayer for any kind of intention you have.
This is one reason why some of the saints practiced bodily mortifications.  (Translation:  hurt themselves on PURPOSE)

This is true of physical, emotional and spiritual pain.  This is true of big pain and itty-bitty pain.

NOTE:  Best I can figure out, there are two parts of "offering something up".  One is to make a conscious decision and effort to give it as a gift to God.  Two is to try not to complain about your suffering.  That kind of ruins the gift.  And why complain when you realize your suffering is making you a powerful generator of POWER FOR GOOD.

I have noticed in my family that often after one of us does something unkind that person will have a little accident.  The offender, for example, might storm off in a huff and walk into a doorway.  We also have a suspiciously large number of chair-related injuries in my home.  You too?  OK, maybe that's just me.

What?  No germs?

Back to Guardian Angels - I have come to believe that my Guardian Angel's job is to protect me from RANDOM suffering.  So Notgod is always hanging around trying to cause me pain and suffering any way he can.  Also, I do stupid things.  I make dangerous mistakes.  My life is constantly full of pain and suffering waiting to get me from all these sources.  My Guardian Angel's job is to only let through the suffering that God specifically allows for some good purpose in my life or the lives of others.

So, I do believe germs exist, but I don't believe random germs are going to make me sick.  They can't touch me without God's permission.  And if they get me sick they will be an opportunity God is presenting me.  Then I will have the choice to waste the suffering by moaning and complaining, or I can see it as a gift that some of the saints actually sought out and longed for.  It is a gift I can give.  And when I give God my suffering I am ACTIVELY, AT THAT MOMENT, SAVING MYSELF, SAVING THOSE I LOVE AND SAVING THE WORLD!   I am putting power in the ammunition stores of the powers of good  in the battle against evil.

I will say my Guardian Angel prayer to help me to listen a little harder for my angel's voice, to thank my angel for his vigilance, and to make sure that nothing random happens to me that isn't purely a gift, in whatever kind of wrapping, from the hand of God.

Random, purposeless suffering stinks.  Suffering for someone you love, well . . . ask Jesus.